Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: NINE FOR THE DEVIL

I've been a fan of the husband/wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Moyer and their "John the Lord Chamberlain" series since it started a decade ago. I find historical fiction to be irresistible if done well and set in an era I am interested in, and this series is set in Constantinople in the reign of Justinian, perhaps the high water mark of what we call the Byzantine Empire. Throughout the series, John, an official at the court of Justinian, has tried to do his job despite the implacable opposition of the Empress Theodora; the twist in Nine for the Devil is that Theodora has died--of natural causes, it appears to everyone but Justinian, who assigns John the task of finding out who killed her. As befits the reality of the time and place--the term "Byzantine" has come down to us to signify something incredibly complicated and obfuscated-- John soon uncovers a number of odd and dangerous intrigues going on, which may or may not have been contributing factors to the death of the Empress. Adding to his confusion are Justinian's broad hints that John's life may hang in the balance if he does not find a "murderer," the disappearance of John's wife on the way to his country estate where his daughter is about to give birth, the apparent existence of a plot to put another on the throne that John's friends are part of, his household servant at death's door--and, in a development just as important in that time and place, John, a pagan, is finding unexpected evidence that the Christians may be onto something in their beliefs, something he finds nearly as disturbing as the fact that his execution may be imminent.
For a reader who has not read the earlier volumes of this series, I think the book may be a little daunting, as several of the characters in the book have changed with the passage of time, a point which may be taken as the overarching theme of the novel, and much of the narrative depends on what has transpired before. But I have read all along, and I felt right at home in the mid-sixth century within twenty pages of starting to read. The mystery and suspense are first-rate, and the ending is surprising and, unlike in the other books, not really favorable to John. The rhyme the series takes its titles from goes to ten, so there will likely be at least another volume to the series--and given the way this one ends, it is bound to be a very different book. But that did not detract from the enjoyment of this one.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spared

After all the hype and hysteria, my area ended up catching a good break regarding the super-storm Sandy. It never got hairy here at all. Power was never lost here, or by anyone in Binghamton; a few of the more rural areas lost it, but the weather was relatively benign enough that it was restored for a lot of people as the night went on. The state of emergency was lifted at 4:30 AM, the high wind warning has been changed to a wind advisory, and the amount of rain here was considerably less than the 3 inches predicted.
There isn't a school district in the area open today, which is still fine; while we're all glad that we escaped major damage, we really couldn't have expected that. My daughter is developing a pretty good chest cold; it was iffy as to whether she would have gone to school on a normal day, anyway, as she had a low-grade fever last night.
It's still dark, but from what I can see out the window here, there are still leaves on the trees--hell, there are still leaves piled along the curb ankle-deep.. I didn't hear the wind last night any more than I hear the wind on a "normal" breezy day, and the wind speed never once approached the speeds a good summer thunderstorm puts up. It's tempting to say that the warnings were the product of fevered imaginations and bedwetters. But a look at images from across the nation belies that notion. New York City and Long Island clearly got their ass kicked. Even before nightfall, the pictures being posted online showed some things I never had seen before. There are silly memes floating around the Internet featuring the Statue of Liberty, but the reality--waves swamping the base of Liberty Island--was pretty bad. There were pictures of LaGuardia Airport flooding, and the lower end of Manhattan looked like this area did last year. There are power outages up ad down the coasts, and I don't really think they're going to have theirs restored quickly.
And yes, I am grateful beyond measure. I hate to sound like this, but we've suffered enough around here; we didn't need another massive clean-up to undergo. I am praying for those family and friends along the coastal area that were badly affected, as I am sure they prayed for us last year. I am happy to do so--and happy to be in a position to do so, too. Tomorrow is Halloween, and incredible as the idea seemed even 24 hours ago, it appears as though it's going to go off without a hitch.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: PSYCHOPATH

I've read a couple of Keith Ablow thrillers recently, and found them, to be kind, wanting. There was one more book of his left in the public library, 2003's Psychopath, and before I wrote him off completely, I decided I would read it and make a final judgment on his writing ability. And this book was by far the best of the three. There wasn't a lot of preposterous plot line, and the central idea--the killer is a psychiatrist, and he eventually engages the forensic psychiatrist hero in a public forum asking to be healed-- is very novel and interesting. The subplots that run through every Ablow book--addiction, the struggles that adopted, traumatized children face trying to acclimate to "loving" adults-- are handled much more sensibly in this book. And when the plot changes gears near the end, it actually is handled very well and is riveting, frankly.
I'm not sure whether Ablow would be worth another look. But at least I know now that he is capable of quality work, and that his novels don't necessarily have to be his fantasies--he is a psychiatrist himself--brought to the page.

Sandy Update, 7:00 PM

Not much to report, other than it's dark. Rain is becoming steadier, as is the wind, but I wouldn't say it was particularly strong at ground level. I did go over to my mother's in Endwell, and the tall oak and the tall maple in the back yard were moving pretty vigorously near the tops of the trees. I would not be surprised to see branches down on either of them tomorrow morning.
There is an outage in the Town of Maine off Route 38B, but so far nothing in the urban areas. I will add that the people on TV need to stop putting up graphics about 70 MPH wind gusts. The goof on WBNG did verbally explain that gusts of those speeds will occur--in the Catskills, a couple of thousand feet higher than we are in the Binghamton area. Around here, the forecase remains for gusts up to 48 MPH.
If we can get through the evening without losing power, we should be all right. The storm coming ashore faster and farther south than was expected 24 hours ago is probably going to help. This isn't over yet, but so far it's more like a fairly typical rainy November night than any kind of tropical nightmare.
Of course, we're not by the coast. Those poor bastards are getting hammered. I see a whole bunch of people on Long Island didn't evacuate, and they're getting their ass handed to them. I wish I could say I was surprised, but as one guy who did move out that was interviewed on the news said, "Some of these people love their house more than their life." I remember how many people made smug remarks in the aftermath of Katrina regarding the mostly African-American poor and near-poor that didn't evacuate in time. Somehow I doubt that there are going to be as much said about in the aftermath of this, even though this people sure as hell got ample warning and had the ability to get out in plenty of time.
Another update later.

Sandy Update, Southern Tier, 2:30 PM

Still in an anticipatory mode at the moment. A light drizzle has started, and breeze has picked up, but nothing awful as of yet. Forecast remains unchanged from National Weather Service for Binghamton--30-40 MPH winds, gusts to near 50. TV is saying gusts to 60, but their forecast covers a lot more area.
Rain totals are not expected to top 3 inches, even after the latest advisory on the storm showed some strengthening as it went over the Gulf Stream. There has been a slight change in track; instead of Atlantic City, it now shows landfall around Cape May, and more importantly it has picked up speed, forecast to come ashore in early evening instead of the middle of the night. It is also going to spend less time in Pennsylvania; it is going to be moving over Lake Ontario within 60 hours.
All of which is relatively good news for Binghamton and the near vicinity. We really don't need another natural disaster to pick up from. And after the last two, everyone--and I mean everyone--is being super cautious. I went to the agency office at the Galleria today because I was going to need the scanner and two phones available--and the hotel management wanted everyone out of the basement by 2 PM. They are afraid not of river flooding, but of groundwater seepage. The county declared a state of emergency as of 4 PM; can't fault them for that, either, as the wind is still likely to cause some problems on roads. Schools all let out by early afternoon, and again I don't see a problem with that; they're unlikely to be going tomorrow, either. And everyone I talked to did some kind of storm prep. I actually froze bags of water, bought flashlights and batteries, and put away garbage cans and the grill.
Paying attention to the wind direction, it seems to be coming, oddly enough, straight from the north. If the center of the storm is still off Virginia somewhere... We're not going to get hammered like the poor bastards along the ocean are. I can tell you already that New York's subways are going to be unusable for months after the storm passes. Philadelphia, too, is going to get absolutely hammered. And the Jersey shore is going to be a serious mess.
But so far, other than a few gusts and very light drizzle, we're OK in Binghamton and surrounding area. Updates as events warrant.

On Edge

As I posted last night on Facebook, this is a hell of a day to go back to work. I have a number of really pressing things to do, and it's looking increasingly like it is going to take all week or even more to do them, because the East Coast is going to be more or less shut down for several days. Including, probably, where I live.
The forecast has changed a little--a little--since I went to bed six hours ago. The sustained winds, at their worst, tonight and into tomorrow morning, are forecast for 30-45 MPH, but more importantly the top gusts are forecast for a maximum of 48 MPH. While this is not good, it beats 50 to 60 MPH, and it beats a steady wind of 40-50 MPH. Sustained rainfall makes everyone around here nervous, with reason, but the models have been pretty clear since Saturday that we are going to get around 3 inches of rain--which isn't great, but isn't going to cause any catastrophes, either. More importantly, there is going to be less rain to the north of us, which means there won't be a lot of water making its way to the area from the watershed.
The main danger remains the prospect of power losses. I am allowing myself to grow hopeful that, at least in the City of Binghamton, it may not happen. If you see a post from me tomorrow morning, you'll know it didn't. Just the same, I've prepared much more than I normally do for this sort of thing. I have two working flashlights and stocked up on batteries. I have plenty of water. I took a suggestion and froze a bunch of Ziploc baggies full of water to make ice packs to help keep things cold if power is lost. I have severalf candles. All of the phones are charged, as are the laptops. I will put all the garbage cans and other loose stuff in the yard in the garage, and leave the garage cracked open enough so that I can get in it to open the door if necessary. The car has 3/4 of a tank, and I will try to fill it up today.
But that's pretty much all you can do. I'm actually more concerned at the moment about the chaos that is sure to ensue once the wind starts to blow a little. I fully expect school to be dismissed early, and it's possible that it is going to be bagged altogether (we'll know for certain in about 30 minutes). And as I said, there are a number of pressing, even urgent things, to take care of today at the office; I was considering going to the main office today anyway because I am expecting important mail and may well have to use the land line phone there to talk to our IT department, and I'm pretty sure now that's what I am going to do, at least part of the day. I'm supposed to go to Syracuse tomorrow and Schenectady Wednesday, but at least the Tuesday trip is looking very doubtful, as I am sure that with an election a week away, no chances with public safety are going to be taken and a state of emergency will likely be declared. I am not saying that in a pejorative manner; it's just reality, and if I were in charge I would err on the side of caution, as well. And there is more to the county than Binghamton; it may well end up being necessary...What I am actually most concerned about is not electricity, but heat. I think my furnace needs the power to be on to run, even though it's not electric per se. I am thinking that even though it normally sits at 62 during the work week during the day, I am going to override it and have it be at least 66 till we get home today, and I am thinking about running it higher than normal tonight in case we lose power in the middle of the night.
By and large, I think the reaction to this among the people here has been fairly calm and reasonable, considering what this area has been through in the last six years. What bothers me some is that there are some "news" outfits that have their own agenda, and there are some people who do not view or read news reports carefully and end up spreading misinformation. Yesterday, there was a guy commenting on Facebook about 70 MPH wind gusts being forecast. I've been checking the National Weather Service often, and I never saw anything like that, and Accuweather never published anything like that, either. It turned out to be coming from YNN, a regional news network, which covers the entire upstate region. YNN's numbers were different than the NWS (higher), but even so, if the person had bothered to read (or possibly more correctly, comprehend what they were reading) they would have seen that the highest gusts were, and are, forecast "over higher terrain." In other words, the Catskills and Poconos, not the City of Binghamton and not even necessarily rural Broome County. I pointed this out in a reply, which led to a pissy comment in return, and I let it go. But this kind of crap bothers me; I guess the reality isn't going to be dramatic enough, so we have to exaggerate and make it even worse than it's going to be. I don't get it, and I never will get it.
The 5 AM advisory confirms that the storm has turned to the north out in the Atlantic, and is expected to turn to the northwest and start heading onshore very soon. Landfall has been moved up a few hours from yesterday, which to my admittedly selfish mind is better: the sooner it comes, the sooner it goes away. But if I was frantically trying to prepare somewhere in New Jersey, I probably wouldn't feel that way. And regardless of what happens here, the bigger story is going to New York getting a huge storm surge. I think the subways are going to be down for months, and I think Manhattan is going to be in real bad shape come Wednesday. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am going to be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: THE HUNGER GAMES

 After seeing and enjoying the movie, even if I didn't understand some of the more subtle things that were going on the background of the movie, I decided to read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Seeing the movie first will take all of the surprise away, as far as the basic premise of the post apocalyptic scenario. But much more is added in the way of background information about the characters, major and minor, and the way the two tributes from District 12 interact--is it real or is it an act designed to improve the odds of survival--is explored in much more detail. So, too, is the actual arena action itself; the dynamics of the action --in the movie, one rather important character just sort of appears out of the blue at a critical point; in the book, the reason everyone comes together is explained and the whereabouts of where that character has been are also explained--make much more sense after reading the book. If there is a flaw in the movie that the book makes worse, it is that the twelve outlying districts are far too small and thinly populated to adequately cover North America and to support the opulent ruling class.
But those are quibbles. The book is a very suspenseful and interesting yarn, made more rather than less interesting by its rather shocking premise. And the author did a very skillful job of laying the foundation of the inevitable sequels; this story is constructed in a way that a sequel is almost necessary, that the sheer audacity and challenge of the ending to the powers that be in the novel cannot really be left hanging. I am not sure whether I am going to read Catching Fire before or after the movie of the same name, but I am surely going to read it.

Fourteen Years Clean

It is the twenty-eighth day of October again, a date which has come to mean more to me than my birthday or any other milestone-marking day of the year. It is the day that has made my life as I live it today possibly. It is the date that has to come to define life as I now live it. It is the date that, fourteen years again, I put down the drugs and alcohol, and so far have not picked them up again.
I've been blogging for several years now, and I have told the story of the circumstances of getting clean a few times. But as always, when this anniversary comes around, I cannot help but recall that the original day was not a day of celebration. It seems almost incomprehensible for "normal" people to understand this, but not only did I come into recovery in handcuffs, but there was a substantial part of me that was glad to do so. I had wanted to put down the drugs for weeks, even months, and had not found the ability to do so while at liberty. I was not happy to be incarcerated, to be sure, but there was a part of me that did understand that I was not going to be getting high in the near future, and that the merry-go-round had stopped.
Which was what I so desperately wanted at the time. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a burden existence had become in the fall of 1998. It was a total, complete sense of hopelessness, that life had descended into this bottomless pit of despair and awfulness and that I was never to be able to climb out of it--indeed, I was still falling down the pit. Existence had become a mind-numbing routine of getting high and getting more, and the really painful part of it was that the former was now taking about 3% of the time up, and the resources were vanishing--had vanished, truthfully--to continue to get high . I had spent several weeks doing things I swore I would never do, things that even the shell-shocked husk of a man I had become was repulsed by, when I thought about them--and so life had become a pursuit of those few moments when it was possible to feel oblivious to that repulsion, to not think about those things. And by this date fourteen years ago, a few moments was all that was possible, and even those few moments were shrinking to mere flash points of time. The pain and hopelessness could not be kept at bay; as I said, it was a burden to go on breathing. And yet I had convinced myself that redemption was not possible, that there was no way that I could get out of the hole I was still falling down, and that feeling justified the effort I was making, feeble as it was, to continue to do what I was doing. My mind was so distorted, so off-kilter, that even though I was not physically dependent on the drug I was using, not using it was unthinkable, simply not an option. The overwhelming consequences that awaited me were so colossal that they simply could not be thought about, much less faced.
Not without an intervention, anyway. I realized before I even got out of jail to go to the rehab I was mandated to go to that God, or some force at any rate, had done for me what I could not do for myself. As more time passes between that period of my life and the present, there are parts of that experience that are becoming hazier; I'm no longer 100% positive what moment of clarity took place in what order. Which is actually a positive, because it means that more and more of my capacity for memory is being taken up by more positive experiences accumulated in the last fourteen years. I do know that I did not truly believe in God at the time--or more accurately the God that I believe in now, loving and caring and paternal. I said I didn't believe in God, if you asked, and on an intellectual level I didn't--but emotionally, I wasn't sure, and what I did feel was that if He did exist, He was punishing and vengeful and required a great deal of penance before I could be considered spiritually fit enough for Him to love me and allow good things to happen for me again. But after sleeping a few times and the fog beginning to lift just a bit, I dimly understood that what I had been so fervently hoping for--the circus stopping--had been granted to me. And that it had come in a relatively benign fashion-- I was, after all, still breathing, and had not been physically assaulted or injured by those I owed significant amounts of money to, and that I had not taken a blast that had blown the elaborate electrical circuit that is the human heartbeat to shreds. I'd love to tell you that my thought process went deeper than that at the time, but as the disease of addiction is characterized by overwhelming self-centeredness, that's all there was in my head at the time--I..was...not...dead...or...hurt. It was still, at my core, pretty much all about me.
That was over a quarter of a lifetime ago. So much has changed that it is not possible to list all the differences. I can tell you this much; while not every moment of every day is spent moving forward, the overall direction has been upward and better, so much so that the place I was in when I got clean seems as remote as a moon of Jupiter is. The problems that seemed insurmountable and all-consuming at the time, the ones I was sure I would never be able to put behind me and so justified my continuing to not face up to--they are all at least a decade in the past. All the things I was afraid of at the time--they didn't kill me, didn't bury me in an avalanche of consequences that would suffocate me. The things that concern me the most today--the future of my children as they approach and enter adulthood, the challenges of a career track, being a responsible citizen, how I can be useful to those around me--are concerns that were completely out of reach and mind when I got clean. It has been a remarkable journey, one I am sure I never would have signed on for if the itinerary had been divulged to me before I embarked on it--and one I do not regret for a moment having undertaken.
Because my life is full and fulfulling today. Even in the last year, I have covered ground that I didn't think I could cover. I have made more progress in resolving long-standing conflict in the last twelve months than I think I did in the previous eight or nine years. While I do not think of God or pray as much as I should, He is certainly much more of an immediate presence in my daily life than He has been for a long time. I have taken more responsibility for my personal recovery than I have in years, and in the process have moved  from being largely a spectator in the fellowship to a participant, even a leader in some ways. And I am enjoying every moment of it. The proof is that almost every meeting I have gone to in the last several months, I have left feeling happy. I am looking forward to working with my sponsee, looking forward to actively sponsoring another when he returns from long-term treatment, and look forward to our men's group every couple of weeks. For many years, I have been engaged in a solitary quest to find evidence of the God I have come to understand and rely upon in standard religious literature--and after a few years of merely finding much that I don't believe in, I am starting to find again evidence of what I do.
And it has helped me grow more in the last twelve months than I thought it was possible for me to do. I look back at some of the things that have happened, and I can only marvel. My character defects put me in some spots I would rather not have been in--but my relationship with God was strong enough to get me through them, to allow me to find solutions and learn from the problems. There were some difficult situations--but the ways out have not varied for the entire period of my recovery, and all that was required of me was to apply them once more. And what I have impressed myself the most with is that I did not, as I would have at virtually every other point in my life, make an already knotty problem worse. The most recent, but not the only, example this year was my sister's wedding; I did not blow up a bunch of lives because my ego got bruised and because people that matter to me got wronged. I did not blow a bunch of lives--mine and my children's, most prominently-- in the spring when I got into an issue at my job. I was able to resolve a couple of long-standing problems with others in the fellowship by admitting my role in those problems, but more importantly taking action to make amends.
If there is an overriding message to others from anniversaries, it is perhaps best exemplified in the last sentence. Wishing for things to get better is not a solution to any problem. Yes, the desire needs to be present, but without the actions that will actually accomplish something, nothing is really going to change. I've known this for many years, because that was my experience through my own early recovery process. I never would have gotten to the point I am at today without that willingness to move forward, to take action. I mentioned the men's group I am a part of; one of the other members of the group is someone I absolutely savaged in the pages of this blog a year and a half ago. I felt bad about doing so almost from the moment I hit "publish"--but the journey I have taken over the last fourteen years has shown me that merely knowing I screwed up isn't going to make anything right, and even merely saying that I screwed up isn't going to make anything right. I approached him and told him I was aware I had wronged him, I wrote in the same forum that I wronged him in that I had wronged him--but more importantly, at least in my mind, I actively tried to repair the damage. I told other people of the things he was doing that I admired. I sought him out--he has been here over a decade longer than me, after all, and has a lot of experience--on matters I needed help and input on. And when doing so, I rediscovered why we had been friends for a long time. Is he flawed? Yes. Does he struggle with areas of his own character? Yes, he does.
But you know what? So do I. There was a definition of humility in It Works: How and Why that I have never forgotten: "a heartfelt belief in our own fallibility." And I think what I have rediscovered the most in the last year is my own fallibility. I am not going to die on a cross. I do not live an exceptionally, even particularly, righteous life. I screw up, regularly. That's not new. What has been new this year is my willingness to admit to it, confront it, and repair the damage caused. I have taken many to task in years past for preying on newcomers, to take one example. I don't make a habit of it myself--but I have done it, and therefore I have no right or reason to sit in judgment of others who do so. I have taken others to task for creating problems for the fellowship in their Area service commitments--without being willing to step up and help alleviate those problems. I stopped talking about it and took an Area position myself. I talk less and do more than even six months ago. And the results are showing. A lot of good things are happening to me. I've gotten through some uncertain times and come out stronger. My relationships with my friends are as strong as they have ever been. My children are becoming strong, self-confident young women. I have weathered some difficult times at my job and have not only survived, but am being valued as never before. And none of this would have been possible if I had not confronted my own tendency to self-righteousness and taken action to combat it. It's a work in progress, but there's less to do than there was even four or five months ago. And not only am I happier, but those around me are as well.
And some things have happened that are out of my hands, that I am sure did not happen because God was trying to make my path easier, but have had that effect. I am sure that the Messagemaster has not stopped coming around to meetings exclusively for my benefit--but once I made the commitment to become more involved in the fellowship, once I made the commitment to not let him be my Higher Power in this area of my life, he vanished. Once I made the commitment to do the best job I could do at my place of employment and not let others dictate how I felt about my job--it all got better. Once I made the commitment to repair issues with those I had wronged, it got unimaginably better--people I had not gotten along with for a long time are now, remarkably, some of my closest friends.
Today is my clean date, and I am recognizing it. But it is merely a mile marker on a journey, not a destination. There is no marker I am going to pass where I am going to say, "I've gone far enough." I've passed from a valley of shadow into a more sunlit place, and I am hoping that the going stays easy for some time longer. But if it doesn't, I'm still moving. I will get to a better place regardless of what the weather around me is like. And ultimately, that is what our life is--the weather on our journey.
Today, I am in a car driving along the road on that journey, and I have an umbrella and a coat in the car for tough times in case the weather gets rough. I'm in good space. And I am beyond grateful to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous for giving me the ability to live this life. I got away from relying on the God of my understanding for periods of time, and even now I feel like God should be present in my consciousness far more than He is. But one pleasant consequence of action is that the connection expresses itself in many ways. I may not be praying six times a day--but if I am acting ethically and fairly, if I am cutting my peers breaks, if I am seeking to understand rather than be understood, if I am committed to doing the best that I can in every sphere in my life--that demonstrates, more than any posture of prayer ever could, that my connection with a loving and caring God is real and heartfelt.
And that's a place that, at least recently, I am frequently in. There's always work to do, to be sure. But there seems to be less to do than there has been. It's been a great year, and I'm looking forward to see what comes next.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Here We Go Again

Even though we are at least three days from direct impact, the area here is already atwitter about the potential consequences of Tropical Storm Sandy as it makes its way slowly up the East Coast. We are less than fourteen months removed from a catastrophic flood, which followed an only slightly-less catastrophic flood in 2006, and so any event that promises significant amounts of rain in a short period of time gets, and will get for a long time to come, people's attention. And what is even more noteworthy about this particular storm is the possibility that it will combine with a storm system coming from the west that is bringing the possibility of snowfall in its wake. Local authority is already asking residents to take precautions and get ready for the possibility of serious--though not, to this point, catastrophic--flooding, and perhaps some power outages, due to some combination of higher-than-normal winds and large amounts of wet snow falling.
I've been looking not at the predicted storm track so much as the predicted moisture totals. So far, our area remains in the 2-3 inches zone--but since yesterday afternoon, the predicted storm track has shifted northward, and the band of high rainfall has moved uncomfortably closer. So far, and this is key for the possibility of flooding, the area to our north and east is going to be spared major amounts--as this is the area of the Susquehanna watershed, chances are we're not going to see massive amounts of water that fell elsewhere rushing through the City of Binghamton, which was the major factor causing the floods of 2006 and 2011.
I live on high ground, so the thought of flooding doesn't personally affect me so much. I am starting to become a little concerned about the idea of power losses. I still don't really think we are going to get sustained damaging winds, because tropical storms rapidly lose wind strength the farther inland they get. My earliest memory of a tropical event in this area was Agnes in 1972, and I don't remember any wind issues associated with it at all--just lots and lots of rain. Sandy is going to bring some wind, though, and in the last twelve hours, the predicted track of the storm center has moved quite a bit north. The projected center of circulation is now predicted to track through Pennsylvania between Scranton and Harrisburg and then north through western New York roughly along the path of Interstate 390. The map is showing that tropical storm-force winds are still expected with it as far as Rochester, which means it's going to be windy here--maybe not in the awful, sounds-like-a-train category, but enough so that some people are definitely going to have trees and other stuff break the lines. I'm hopeful that where I am, it's not going to happen, especially since we lost power here a couple of summers ago for several hours and hopefully the relay station it happened at has some relatively new equipment at it. If it does...well, it's going to be difficult. I have plenty of water stashed. But most of my food is in the freezer or refrigerator. I am in better shape than most in that I have two cell phones and I keep them fully charged with zealous regularity, and I am always on my daughter's case to keep hers charged, too.There are also now four laptops in this house that are usually fully charged--although if Road Runner goes down, and it always seems to when the power goes out, that's not going to really matter. I need to pick up batteries for the clock-radios sometime this weekend, and I need to buy another couple of candles, too. I am very glad that I just got a new credit card a few weeks ago; it might come in handy.
I have a feeling that Halloween this year isn't going to be very festive for many. But my gut feeling is that every time in the last several years we have gotten advance warning on some weather event, it has turned out to be not as bad as anticipated; both 2006 and 2011 were somewhat of surprises in their intensity and effect.  Most of the predicted "snow events" of the past few years haven't turned out to be major problems, either; the one that I remember being nearly paralyzing recently was another that seemed to take everyone in authority by surprise. So my fingers are crossed that this is going to be another "better safe than sorry" scenario, and that while it may rain for a few days and it may be windy for a while, we're going to escape major problems. And if we don't...well, in one place, at least, the Mayans are going to be right. We've taken several major blows here recently, and I don't think we can survive another one so quickly after the last one. I really don't.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Islands in the Whirlpool

It's an unfortunate fact of recovering life that far more people attempt to stay clean than actually manage to do so for any length of time. It is also an unfortunate fact that I have received several reminders recently that even significant clean time is not a barrier to relapse, if that time is not used to actually work a program of recovery. As my own anniversary approaches, I'm not really worried for myself; the state of my program may not be as robust as I would like it to be ideally, but it's in pretty good shape. But sometimes I feel like being in recovery is like finding a rock in rapids or a small island in a big whirlpool--and that you see a lot of people lose their grip and get swept past or circle round and round for years at a time, sinking ever lower.
Last night was a special night at the Endicott group; one of our long-time members celebrated her ninth year clean.(I would name her, but her life has taken a turn where she is now dealing with a large number of people who do not know she is in recovery, so I will just refer to her as A). A has been clean since she was in her teens, an extremely unusual occurrence, and after watching and listening to her regularly for nearly two years, I am filled with admiration with her. She has finished high school and college while in recovery, never really wavering in her commitment to it; manages to work a program, not just stay clean; and has accomplished a great deal as far as staking out a path in her life. But more than that, she has overcome a background that does not encourage recovery, where those that are supposed to be sources of support for young people have turned out to be--well, something less than that, at the minimum. This is someone who has had to learn the hard way, at the most emotionally fragile ages, that the fellowship often is our true family, that we accept and love each other and provide the unconditional support that all people crave and need and so few receive. And while she has been moving from adolescence to young adulthood, she has become a role model for not only other recovering people, but quite a few others as well. My daughter admires A a great deal; as much as many of the women in recovery have served as role models in some capacity for a girl who hasn't been dealt a terribly good hand with the person who normally fills that niche, A is one of the major ones, because she is so youthful and so not-maternal and yet so obviously lives by the principles of the program.
I shared in the meeting last night that I thought of A last Friday night, after the candlelight. The candlelight attracts dozens of people every week, and after the meeting last week, I was approached by a guy that I've known since before the turn of the century. He's been in the Salvation Army program at least three times, was at the halfway house when I worked there so many years ago, and has shuttled between this area and his hometown a few times. And he's never gotten more than six months or so clean, and often not even close to that. When he was younger, he was a classic example of the ne'er-do-well who got by because he was a pretty boy; he conned  woman after woman (including, briefly, MOTY, shortly after we split; ; accounts have varied over the years as to who split with who, but since the MO of both has always been "wring the partner out of everything they're worth" and neither had jack to their name at the time, it was probably relatively mutual) into taking care of him and putting up with historic levels of nonsense because, when all the broth was boiled off, they were hot for him. As time has passed, he's become less pretty; he's now in his early 40's and looks awful, especially with a ponytail and a scruffy beard... Tom wanted a ride to some flop house in the First Ward, because he had been kicked out of the Salvation Army yet again that day. And for the six or seven minutes it took to get him there, I listened to a solid litany of victimhood--how he was the victim of injustice, how his rules infraction didn't justify getting tossed out, how the cop involved was sympathetic and co-signed the nonsense, ad nauseum. Ten years ago, I might have attempted to reason with him, to say, "Well, when you've got a track record like yours, you don't get the chances that a guy in his first try is going to get. The Sally's admitted your sorry ass at least three times and probably more. You're 45 years old and you're still using, still haven't got anywhere, still doing the same shit you were twenty years ago." But I didn't; we had discussions like that eleven years ago when he was in the halfway house, when he got kicked out because he was not only screwing one of the female residents (while his then-girlfriend was holding the torch for him and keeping him well-supplied in luxury items), but was reckless enough to be doing so on the grounds, which led to his getting booted. He made a few noises at the time about doing Steps and working a program, until the day came when it was time to actually sit down and start working; he then found an excuse to get mad at me and stormed away. And Friday, little had changed; when he got to the flophouse, he asked for money and I told him I wasn't going to break a twenty for him, and I saw the flash of anger in those defeated eyes. I was actually ready for him to attempt to take it; the car was in park, my fists were balled, and I was tense as hell. He got out, after a few silent moments, and took his sweet time getting out of the driving lane, but eventually made it to the sidewalk, and away I went.
And I thought to myself that he is one of those, a distressingly large number, that, despite what we say in our literature and in our meetings, that's never going to get it, that is always going to exist on the margins of the program until he gets a very long bid or dies. And it dawned on me that there are far more of these people than there used to be. I can think of three other guys who fit his profile very tightly--guys who have glided along on their looks, who have sponged off woman after woman after woman(many of whom one would think would know better, being very attractive and smart and motivated to do well in other facets of life) for decades at a time. One of these guys has spent much of the last seven years or so in jail, just got out, and has done the Facebook "in relationship/single/in relationship" tango the last month, demonstrating, despite his professions of undying love and need to make amends to his only child, what really matters to him. Two of these guys were similar to Tom, in that they've been around for a decade or more and have never put it down for any length of time; both were with good friends of mine for years in our early recoveries, both haven't progressed materially or emotionally at all in the intervening years, and both picked significant new charges several months ago and are going to be finally be doing a few years in jail. I can't see how Tom is going to avoid that fate; he is still clearly in the same denial of responsibility, still looking for someone to take care of his needs while he indulges himself in the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure. All four of these guys have children who have essentially grown up fatherless, and quite honestly, none of them give a shit, despite what comes out of their mouth. Or maybe they do, but they are too cowardly and too selfish to actually commit to doing something different and turn that around.
I don't have the patience for that any longer. I faced that moment over a decade ago, and made the decision that no matter what it took, that I was not going to be a spectator in my daughters' lives, that I was going to do the right thing by them and do what I could to be responsible for parenting them. It wasn't easy and remains not easy. I knew it might be possible that I would end up being Sabrina's only constant and steady source of support and guidance--but I had no idea of how totally consuming that would be. I knew it would be possible that I might not ever have a major role in Rachel and Jessica's life--and that has turned out to be largely true, certainly not as big a role as I had hoped to have... but I did it anyway, and I'm not in the least sorry that I did so. I have not lost years--decades-- of my life. My children might have some issues with me, but prolonged absence is not one of them. I have not inflicted woman after woman on them as surrogate stepmothers. I have not subjected to them to intimate, first-hand knowledge of the legal system. I have not subjected myself to more chaos and pain, by ducking responsibilities and making excuses for doing so. I haven't blamed everybody and everything else in the world for my own mistakes, and consequently I have learned from them.
And I am better for it. My children are better off for it. The world is better off for it. Good things have happened, and more good things keep happening. And most of all, I am out of the water. I am not going to drown in the whirlpool of active drug addiction. And I keep thinking of guys who can't put it down, who have gone back after years clean... Another friend of mine just made a painful decision to let her fiance go, after he simply will not commit to being clean. He has every reason to do so, and yet the other stuff ultimately means more to him. This guy has worked for years with another guy who was part of my peer group, who was clean for years, but who never did any Step work and eventually turned to drugs again, losing most of a business he had built from scratch, a marriage and stepdaughter who loved him deeply, and some truly nice material things... yeah, he had some setbacks, some hard knocks. But how does this help? How is this an improvement? And to top it off, the guy who was clean for a decade now makes ends meet by selling drugs, I am told. To me, that's just incomprehensible, to be so selfish and so lacking in basic morality as to profit off the very thing that you spent a decade avoiding because it had wrecked your own life. And unfortunately, he's not the only one who does this. There's a guy running around with allegedly two decades clean, that actually goes to meetings, who to all visible evidence is selling drugs for a living. I try to understand rather than be understood in these cases, but I do truly wonder how they can sleep at night, how they can justify this behavior. There are other factors in play that I'm not willing to go into this morning, and God knows I fall short in some areas at times. Part of me insists "not on that level," but today, being grateful that I have that kind of iron boundary in my own mind that I will not cross is as far as I am willing to go on that subject. I know I'm not going to go there, and for today that's enough.
And I can take pleasure in the company of those who find themselves on the island with me. A is not going to suffer lost decades in her life. I have not suffered a lost decade of my life. Those of us who have accepted that it is a Twelve Step, not a One Step, program have not suffered lost decades of our lives. Recovering does not mean that you get a pass on issues and problems; life happens whether you are clean or not clean. But I can tell you that I have my hands full with the issues and problems of life that happen when you're clean. I can't imagine haven't to juggle the bullshit that goes along with active addiction ever again. There's too many good things out there to be struggling in survival mode. I feel bad for those that are doing so--but I also am starting to run up against a bit of compassion fatigue. I understand that everyone has their own limits, that for some people, it takes much more than it took for me to find the willingness to change. And I sincerely hope that they find it. But I admit that I am getting a little tired of seeing the same bodies going round and round in that whirlpool.
I'm not going in after you. And I'm not throwing you a life preserver in order for you to scream "WHEEEEEEE!" as you go around another few dozen times, either. The life preserver is to get you to the island. And if you're not willing to use it for that--well, there are other people in the water that are. And those are the ones that are going to get my attention.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review: ELEVATING THE GAME

 I love reading older books, written a decade or even two ago. I love seeing what seemed important at the time, and in cases like this book, of who seemed destined for greatness, and then seeing what the passage of time has done to those perceptions and expectations. Then-current impressions are only a small part of Nelson George's Elevating the Game, though. It is a history of black influence and black participation in the sport of basketball during its first century of existence. And as a white man reading a book about blacks and black culture, written by a black author, I have to say that I learned a great deal from the book, dated as it is in some ways. I had next to no idea of the game's beginnings--and one reason that the game was so stolid, so white-bread for so long was in its roots as an invention as an YMCA summer activity. The history of the black college game in the mid-twentieth century, the integration of the NBA, the hidden costs of that integration--the lack of education asked of black kids at major schools as opposed to colleges like Tennessee State and Grambling-- are chronicled. So is the evolution of the NBA through the end of the 1980's, although it is now amusing to read of Dennis Rodman before he got really weird, of Jordan as he was just getting started, and of the rising generation of "New Jack" stars such as Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson that never lived up to expectations. And the most interesting links for me were the connections between music and basketball---how jazz, be-bop, R&B, and certainly in recent years (although outside the scope of this book) rap culture has directly influence styles of play. The author can be taken to task on some issues/players--Wilt Chamberlain the most obvious--but all in all, I really enjoyed this book. It offers something I hardly ever see anymore: a fresh take and a new perspective.

An Unlikely Election Issue

I've spent almost all of my life living in New York state. While there are many things not to like about this state, I will say that between my limited personal exposure to other parts of the country (relatives in Michigan, brief domiciles in Texas and southern Florida) and what I see and hear from people who live in other parts of the country, I am ecstatic that I live here. While there is a bit of a yahoo/fool element that lives in my neck of the woods, they are nowhere near a majority of those who make up the population. This state, flawed as it is, has devoted a lot of time and money over the years to educating its citizens, making sure that their basic needs are met, and that the "system", whether legal or  economic, gives almost everyone a fair shot at living a productive and satisfying life. It is not all chocolates and candy around here, to be sure--our state legislature is notoriously corrupt and rife with nepotism and cronyism, and the state's finances are always teetering on the edge of disaster. Everyone complains about how high taxes are for people and businesses here, but the older I get, the more I realize that people are always going to complain that their taxes are too high; it's like a rite of adulthood. My gut feeling is that people will pay high taxes, albeit with grumbling, if they feel like they are getting close to their money's worth. And in this state, for all the aggravations that come to light occasionally when yet another folly from a legislature member is uncovered, we generally do get our money's worth.
And one of the ways this has been brought to my attention recently has been by reading and listening to some of the political discourse emanating from some of the national congressional races around the nation this year.  As we draw closer to Election Day, it seems that more and more Republican candidates from states that do not spend a lot of money on educating and taking care of their citizens are saying ridiculous and outrageous things on any number of subjects. And yes, they are more or less limited to that party, so save the howls of outrage that "the other side does it/has their boobs, too." Not on this scale. Not in such ignorant and dangerous ways. And I'm not even talking about the national standard bearer. God knows I am no fan of Mittens, but 1) a lot of what I find objectionable about him is his selfishness and sense of entitlement, not necessarily his views on basic society, and 2) the objectionable parts of his basic views of society derive ultimately from the Old Testament cult that is his religion. Mormons are unabashedly Neanderthal in many areas of social organization and values. There are reasons why this hasn't been more of an issue in the campaign than it has, but two of the biggest is that many Protestant sects share some of the same attitudes (the Catholic hierarchy does, as well, but fortunately for the country, most of the American Catholic laity has long since ceased paying attention to their church leadership on any matters of substance), and that Mormons have been abnormally successful in the arena of the great American secular religion, the making of money. When all is said and done, most Americans pay more attention to the economic status of other Americans (well, white Americans, anyway) than anything else; you will not be held to account for your more freakish beliefs if you are economically successful. Or at least that has been the case on a neighborly and personal level.
But in more progressive, more educated, less openly religious parts of the country, this kind of stuff doesn't fly when we choose our political leaders. For the most part, in the parts of the country that saw European settlement first (New England, mid-Atlantic states, and the parts of the country that used to belong to Spain and Mexico other than Texas, Utah, and Arizona), we don't put ignoramuses in office, not to put too fine a point on it. An example of this general truth is taking place in Connecticut this year. There is no real reason that Linda McMahon should not be winning a Senate seat. She is wealthy beyond belief; for better or worse, she is associated with a wildly successful business and entertainment venture, which appeals to the pervasive American star-fucker culture; and her opponent is fairly nondescript. But her views on many subjects are not surviving exposure to scrutiny; they have been revealed to be steeped in ignorance and naked self-interest. And with a voting base that has been more or less educated in civics, that has spent their lives in a society that has been committed to a degree to the well-being of all its citizens, that is free from the stifling and encompassing intellectual suffocating blanket of evangelical and/or Old Testament-based Christianity (which logically should be an oxymoron, but unfortunately is not), ignorance and self-interest don't usually make it to office. Yes, I know Pennsylvania elected Rick Santorum twice, but there are exceptions to every rule.
But this is not true in other parts of the country, and what has been surprising to me this year is the startling number of Republican candidates whose view of sexual violence seems to be positively frightening. The case of Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate who claimed that women are capable of self-contraception when it comes to pregnancies borne of "legitimate rape", is well-known, because it's been in the news for a few months. But there have been quite a few others jaw-dropping pronouncements made on the subject of forced sexual relations--Ron Paul, Representative from Texas and Republican presidential candidate, made references  to "honest rape"; the aforementioned McMahon lamely attempted to justify her stance on "emergency rape;" and, going back several months, there are Republicans already holding office who sponsored legislation about "forcible rape" and made distinctions regarding women who were "easy to rape."And now, some idiot running for the Senate in Indiana has made a statement saying that should a pregnancy result from rape, it should be regarded by the victim as a "gift from God"--language that actually echoes things said in the past by failed Senator and presidential candidate Santorum and current Texas (where else) Senator John Cornyn.
To which all I can say is, "Wow."
First of all, rape is not a sex crime so much as it is a crime of violence. It is a crime of control, of forcing the unwilling to submit to power. Far, far too many men--and too many women, too, for that matter--see rape as a sexual crime, that the victims somehow are at fault for being assaulted. I have never accepted this stupidity, but have grown violently opposed to it as my three daughters have grown up. Dress and attitude should not be and is not any justification for assault--period. And anyone who claims even a little bit otherwise is a morally deficient idiot--and if that offends you, too fucking bad: the truth hurts. And all these things being bandied about by these politicians are simply code words for "the victim had it coming."
Of course, this has nothing to do with actual "Christian" beliefs--if by Christian you mean the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Unfortunately most of the "Christians" that hold political office in this country, and certainly in the parts of the country that most of these guys hail from, practice a religion that is based on the fiercely patriarchal and misogynistic belief system of a three-thousand year old priestly caste of a long-gone  tribal society, otherwise known as ancient Judaism. Modern Judaism doesn't take those beliefs terribly seriously anymore--but fundamentalist "Christians" sure do, to everyone's detriment. But even more than the roots of an outdated value chain that is fundamentally opposed to much of not only what we view as "American" values, but to any valid concept of morality, what these people are unwittingly reflecting is a particularly modern social virus. I am referring to the one unfortunate negative impact of widespread Internet availability and usage--the incredible, saturating impact of pornography on demand.
Because in the fantasy world that is pornography, women are always looking for sex. Women are always "asking for it." Women secretly enjoy getting raped and violated. Pregnancy does not result from sexual encounters in Porno World. Female employees expect to have to take care of their employers' sexual desires in Porno World. Wives stay at home in Porno World and fuck everyone they come into contact with. Men without visible means of support cruise around all day and find women willing to have sex with two or three men at a time in Porno World. Every female student gets lackluster grades hoping for a chance to be kept after school to have a chance for "extra credit" in Porno World. This stuff is all over the Internet, and has been for nearly a generation now. And it has had a major, huge effect on the male population of this country. I've seen its effect first hand in the younger generation; the last five or six years, I have noticed a marked deterioration in healthy attitudes among adolescent males for their female peers, and I am convinced that widespread access to porn is the reason why. But it has had an insidious effect on adult males, too. I don't know for certain if Akin and Cornyn and Santorum and Richard Mourdock have or still do hit porn sites online regularly. But their public attitudes sure are consistent with the mindset found in those places--they are more or less a male's fantasy view of what women should be like, and what a woman' proper role in society actually is. I will be surprised if they do not; one other thing that has become very common and prevalent to the point where it is almost a defining characteristic of the public "Christian" political office holder or seeker is that they are hypocrites of the first degree, and so a porn fixation would be entirely plausible for many of these guys in spite of their avowed "Christianity." And while McMahon is a woman, she made her money, after all, pushing a PG-13 version of pornography on the youth of America--WWF wrestling, with all its who's-doing-who subplots and heels and double-crosses. You can't be immersed in this garbage for two decades and not have it affect the way you think.
And given what's out there now, it's only going to get worse. Today's adults running for office were probably more affected by T&A television in the 1970's and 80's than by widespread Internet pornography. The coming generation has been raised on this crap since childhood, and the Neanderthal, crude beliefs being expressed publicly now are going to pale in comparison to what happens when some of these brainwashed boys actually achieve positions of power. It's not going to be pretty.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Death in a Jail

I don't usually comment on local matters, for a variety of reasons, but I can't let something I saw in the local Press pass today. About a year ago, a guy I knew was arrested for possession, and then died while in jail a couple of days later. Yesterday, a report was issued that said that he died of drug withdrawal symptoms, and that a contributing cause of death was that the company that the county contracts with to provide medical services at the jail failed to do their job on several different levels.
Which was not news, at all, to anyone who has ever been incarcerated at the jail for any length of time. I was in jail as a result of active addiction a couple of times, and among the many abysmal things that being jailed involves is a near-total lack of medical care. I was in the medical unit during one of those stays, and I honestly cannot remember seeing a doctor during the several days I was in there. There were a number of people in much worse shape than me in the unit at the time, and near as I could tell the "care" given to them consisted of being told to stop complaining. The only people in the jail who get their medications without fail are diabetics, and they are required to get up at 4 AM to get one of their daily shots. A consistent complaint of the people I know that work for Southern Tier Aids Program is that people who end up in jail that have HIV are given sporadic access to their antiviral medications. I have heard dozens of anecdotes from people who are in and out of recovery that access to psychiatric medications while incarcerated is nearly non-existent--which, given the degree some of these people need things like Prozac to function, is pretty damn frightening. There is a doctor who comes to the jail once or twice a week, for a couple of hours at a time; if you happen to fall ill shortly after his visit, basically you suffer until he's back again--and it isn't as if he's Hippocrates when he's there, either. And the guards--well, I'm going to be kind, and say that a significant number (not a majority, but there are quite a few) are generally sympathetic to those in need of medical attention and will at least try to get the creaky system moving. There are more, to be honest, who treat all inmates as sub-humans and not only do not help, but mock those in need of care. And there are a number who simply ignore anyone in distress, whose only goal is to get to the end of the shift without having to deal with anything out of the ordinary.
I understand that it's a jail and that it's not supposed to be a country club or even like a floor at Wilson. But there is something inherently wrong about the way medical care is provided at the jail. Drug addiction has been a problem long enough in the world for everyone to know that withdrawal from certain types of drugs is physically dangerous at times. If someone is arrested for possession of opiates, and they are clearly using them instead of merely selling them--well, you have to know hat withdrawal is coming, right? I'm not saying that people should be admitted directly into an infirmary bed, but I would think that you should know enough to keep them under observation--and having been in there, I can tell you that the hoary excuses that guards are "too busy" to do that are bullshit, because a fair number of them pass their shift at their desk reading the paper or, in the pod I was in, playing cards with inmates they like. Because in the long run, it's less expensive and less of a problem when you make sure that someone in custody doesn't die.
As I said, I knew the guy who died--not well, but enough to say hello when I saw him when he was at a meeting I was at; like most addicts, and more specifically most opiate abusers, he was in and out of recovery for years without ever really staying. I've noticed over the years that, despite what our literature says, that in some ways it does matter what you used; crackheads and meth freaks and other stimulant abusers tend to be done at a much more firm rate than opiate or pill abusers. I think that crack and meth take a much worse toll on bodies and souls than opiates do is the biggest reason why, and there comes a point when you've just had enough and you simply cannot go on doing what you've been doing any longer. I remember a speaker I heard one time who had, at various times in his life, abused both heroin and crack, and he said something to the effect that when he was shooting up, there were still things like his family, movies, jobs, and going out to eat in his life, whereas crack use inevitably, if you use long enough, degenerates into the very simple existence of getting it, smoking it, and going to get it again, with pretty much nothing else going on. This was touched upon in the article in the Press today; the guy who died had a wife and kids that he was living with at the time of his arrest and subsequent death, and they are the ones who are pursuing the lawsuit. There are a substantial number of people who do not grasp this point; that people who are addicted to drugs do not cease being people because of it. They have families. Some of them still have jobs. All of them deserve, whatever their "sins," to be given basic medical care when they need it.
But the culture surrounding incarcerated individuals, unfortunately, does not embody that value. And there is a huge number of "normal" people that do not have that view, either. As a society, not only do we lock up far too many of us, but we erect a huge wall between "them" and "us" as well, that ensures that incarceration is as degrading and dehumanizing as possible. And the surest and quickest route to making sure that incarceration extracts a horrid toll is the privatization of basic services within the facility. Medical care, as mentioned, is a sick joke. Food "services" are exploitative in the extreme (the cost to inmates for ramen noodles, to take one example, was sixty cents a package over a decade ago; I can only imagine what it is now) and of a quality that no one would willingly eat; I recall some "meals" at the jail that were inedible. Inmates have to not only wear the jail's clothing, but are issued inadequate amounts of it; when laundry comes once  a week, having three pairs of underwear and socks means that half the week, you're feeling pretty damn grungy no matter how often or well you shower and wash. The standard response to this is "they're in jail, and it isn't a country club." Yeah, I know that.
But you don't forfeit access to food, clothing, and medical care when you get arrested. Or at least you shouldn't. As politicians never cease to remind us, this is America, and what makes us different than other places is that we are not supposed to be doing things to our people that "dictators" and those who don't love "freedom" do. There is no reason you shouldn't be able to take your medications while you are incarcerated. There is no reason that someone experiencing serious medical conditions should not have some sort of immediate care given to them. There is no reason that "security" and cost concerns should trump basic human rights. Most of the people in the county jail are actually awaiting trial or disposition of their cases; you can't even legitimately claim that they are "paying their debts" to society, because the main thing most of them are guilty of at the time they are there is not being able to make bail. The ultimate goal for all of society regarding drug addiction is that people stop being addicted. I suppose that death achieves that goal. But it shouldn't occur because of neglect, ignorance, and because we can't be bothered to provide even rudimentary medical care to someone simply because they are temporarily behind bars. That it happened because provision of basic services like medical care was "contracted out"--ie, privatized, just like all these Republican political figures want to do with just about everything that governmental agencies now handle--makes it even worse. If an entity is getting paid to provide a service, then they should provide the damn service, not just collect the money for charging exorbitant fees for allegedly doing so.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: DAMN YANKEES

Damn Yankees is actually an anthology of 24 writings, by a world-class bevy of writers, on the world's most famous baseball team, and according to recently published studies, the second-most recognizable team in the entire world (after Manchester United), the New York Yankees. The writing is quite good, from great sportswriters old and young, most of whom I have read before. Most of them are by fans of the team; some are by haters. And even though I fall into the latter category, I enjoyed the book. It helped that the subject changed every 5-10 pages, and there were actually a few stories about the Yankees less-than-successful years that marked my childhood.
And if nothing else, this book was worth reading for the single best description of George Steinbrenner I have ever read, by Bruce McCall: "an egomaniac wrapped in a bully inside an asshole." And I have to say that growing up when I did, Steinbrenner was a big reason why I never liked the team. But not the only one. There was the Oedipal thing going on; my father was a Yankee fan, and I wasn't going to like who my dad liked, for God's sake (the only team we had in common was the Rangers, and after the famous thrown-shoe incident in our home watching the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals, my dad had a walk-away experience like I had with the Vikings a year ago. He walked away to save further heartbreak, and never really came back--he tried to get into the team in 1979 and 1986, but his heart wasn't in it, and I was out of the house by time the Messier teams came around). And part of that was the repeated trips to Yankee Stadium in the late sixties and early seventies--when the team wasn't real good; my only in-person experiences with baseball at the impressionable ages were filled with Bill Berbach, Jerry Kenney, and similar never-weres. It didn't help that the Yankees' best player in those years was one of the world's all-time biggest assholes, Thurman Munson--a player who ignored me and several other kids pleading for autographs in his rookie season, and then muttered loud enough for us to hear "fucking kids" as he marched off to the batting cage. It didn't help that the Yankees were always on in our house during the summer, and I grew to loathe the all-time homer, Phil Rizzuto, and the shameless shilling of Frank Messer, who set bullshit meters off the scale even in a grade-school boy (who knew that Horace Clarke wasn't good, that Celerino Sanchez was not a "star in the making, that Roy White was a pretty sorry excuse for an All-Star). The Yankees of Ralph Houk, of Ball Four, of Ron Blomberg, of Tom Verbanic and Rob Gardner--that was what I was being asked to give my love to, not the always-winning teams of the last twenty years or so. There are several articles in the anthology featuring this era's players, including an update on the most infamous of all-- Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich of wife swap fame (Peterson and the former Mrs. Kekich are still married 39 years later, so at least one set of people weren't doing it to be kinky).
I don't really remember why I started liking the Red Sox, or even exactly when. I think it was around 1970, because I remember liking Tony Conigliaro and he had a big season that year. I know I was definitely a fan by 1972, when the Red Sox lost the American League East by a half-game and I was crushed. The bad blood wasn't really there until 1976, when the Bill Lee/Graig Nettles fight took place. But when Reggie came to town, it was on... the start of 27 years of misery. 2004 has permanently erased nearly all of that pain; I don't care how many times and different instances of chokes you bring up, none will ever measure up to the gag job of blowing a 3-0 series lead, the bloody sock game, and the ass-kicking in Game 7. In the Bucky Dent game, no one remembers the Yankees went up 5-2 in the 8th inning after the homer, and hung on for dear life when the Sox came storming back. For that matter, after the Buckner game, the Sox led Game 7 and nearly came back from a three-run deficit after the Mets went ahead. They never laid down and died like the Yankee dogs of 2004 did.
And the good parts of this book aren't all by the venomous writers. There was a good article about Derek Jeter (who, I grudgingly admit, has been a class act the entire time he has been there, and a hell of a player besides). There were some about Mantle and Ruth, the Yankees that made the team the Yankees. I was kind of disappointed no one wrote about Stengel and Torre; one of the most prescient pieces of writing I ever remember reading was Bill James talking about Torre's managerial career in the late 1980's and saying it looked a lot like Stengel's before New York (James is in this book, and it's a strangely pedestrian, straight up analysis of Yankee catchers' best 100 seasons. Other than putting Munson in the [low] place he deserves, it wasn't very interesting at all). Some of the writers clearly didn't do their best work for this volume (although the shortest, Frank Deford's three pages, is an absolute masterpiece).
But everything aside, it took me a day to read it. It's worth picking up.

Proving the Point

My daughter, as I have mentioned previously, is very interested in the presidential election this year, as she has reached the age where, at least for some youth, her interest in the wider world has awakened. And her social studies--excuse me, Humanities teacher--has assigned various tasks to the kids in the class relating to the election. So, despite my general disinclination to do so (because my mind is made up and Romney so irritates me that I find myself hollering at the television often when he is on the screen, a position I find extremely embarrassing for a 49YO man to be in and yet I find I am powerless to resist), after she implored me to do so, I watched much of last night's third and final presidential candidate debate with her.
I think, partisan lenses aside, it was clear Obama got the better of the exchanges. Romney simply doesn't know what he is talking about; there were more generalities and buzzwords spouted by him than by a eighth-grader trying to desperately to bluff his way through a presentation he didn't do any work on.
I did notice Romney steered very clear, after the subject blew up in his face in the last debate, of Libya, even when the question was on the subject. As a matter of fact, Romney pretty  much stayed off the offensive all night, especially as Obama was not shy about pointing out the many times Romney has been wrong on foreign policy questions. Romney, on the other hand, didn't really take serious issue with Obama's foreign policy, at least tonight, on any subject. He kind of gave off the impression that he didn't really want to be there, as much or more so than Obama did in the first debate, and was sweating profusely almost from the beginning of the debate. And by time it ended, he had the look on his face that only rich people get when they discover that there is something they can't buy.
I don't have any real illusions that anything is going to change because of the debates. I'm starting to get a little more worried about the increasingly blatant Republican attempts to steal the election, and I am beyond ecstatic that the United Nations has found it necessary to send election monitors here. Those election monitors were a staple of United States propaganda for decades, and the irony that they are needed in this country now ought to fill any true patriot with shame. However, a sense of shame is foreign to most of our Republicans and the quislings that vote for them, and I just hope that past precedent does not hold and the Democrats do not allow the election to be stolen from them.
But there was one thing in the debate that was a very surprising echo of something I wrote about in this space yesterday One of the few subjects Romney talked about in more than passing was Iran, and a couple of times he referred to Syria as Iran's "link to the sea." Umm... look at a map, Mitt. Iran has a 1500 mile coastline. It takes up the entire northern coast of the Persian (which was the name of Iran for two thousand years) Gulf. It takes up almost the entire northern coast of the Gulf of Oman. Syria has a few hundred miles of coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. More importantly, Syria and Iran do not share a common border; a couple hundred miles of Iraq, a place Romney has presumably heard of, are between them. The only possible reason I can think of for cutting Romney even a tiny break is that there is pipeline that terminates in Syria--but that serves the oil fields of northern Iraq (actually Kurdistan), not Iran. Iran's oil-producing regions are almost entirely on the Gulf; to pipe it to Syria would make no sense whatsoever. To be honest, much of what Romney said didn't make a lot of sense, either. I don't think he's much in his element on any subject, but he very clearly is out of his element on foreign affairs, something he tacitly acknowledged by trying to talk about domestic issues on a couple of occasions last night.
Obama doesn't really have a killer instinct. If Romney had performed like this against either Clinton, or even Joe Biden, there would have been blood on the floor. But Obama did well enough to be a clear victor, and I am aware that Obama may not have wanted to beat Romney up to avoid giving white voters an excuse to indulge their latent racism (it's disgusting that this is even an issue in 2012, but it would be ignorant not to say it's a consideration). But still, on any conceivable question, Romney has not given any compelling arguments that he would be an improvement over Obama. As some pundit said last night, "Romney's essential position is 'What he said, only coming from a white guy.' Combined with some truly dangerous ideas on economic matters, the fact that he is incapable of honesty, and that he's just an inveterate dick, I cannot imagine why anyone with a functional cerebral cortex could convince themselves that Romney would be an effective President.
As I keep reminding everyone, I'm not really an Obama fan. But to give him credit, he at least seems as though he has learned on the job; he has certainly done better as President in the last eighteen months than I thought he was ever going to do. It is possible, at least, that a second term may see some actual progress being made in areas like renewable energy, climate change, stopping the erosion of social programs, etc. I don't really think so, but at least we shouldn't regress. 
And for God's sake, we won't have a President who will have to use Google Maps when stuff happens around the world.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: DETROIT

Detroit is not a book about the auto industry, at least directly. It is instead, as author Scott Martelle writes in the preface, a biography of the city itself, from its founding back in the seventeenth century by French trappers through a year ago. And although the auto industry and its ups and downs are necessarily a major part of the narrative, the story of the city has one much more overriding theme, one that most Americans don't like to think about, much less address: race relations. Detroit has been perhaps the most racially volatile city in the nation for over a hundred years, dating back to the days before there was even an auto industry, and it continues to be the dominant issue facing the city today. The entire sordid history of discrimination, violence, flight, and descent into perhaps the most depressed of major American cites is told in detail, and frankly it isn't a tale that makes for comfortable reading. It is never easy to confront an issue that is, no pun intended, so black and white, where the unjustifable has been practiced and violently imposed for so long that there is widespread and legitimate despair that any lasting changes will ever take place.
And more than most people who live elsewhere, I know that the picture painted here is accurate. My mother is from Pontiac, not quite an hour from the Canada crossings in downtown Detroit, and I spent parts of every summer from 1972 through 1981 in the Detroit metro area. And the blatant racism portrayed here was part and parcel of the experience. My grandmother was, frankly, a horrible human being, and her naked and ugly racism was unfortunately typical not only of the family but of the circles she moved in as well. By the time of the summer Jimmy Hoffa disappeared a few miles from her house, I loathed almost all of my mother's side of the family, mainly because their racism infected their entire personality until almost all of them were sour, deformed, nasty individuals. And I still do. I have not set foot in Michigan since the day we buried my grandfather. He was one of the three people who lived out there that I actually liked; my great-grandmother died a few years before him, and my uncle's wife divorced him shortly before my grandfather died. I can't remember if Valerie was typically racist, but I know my grandfather and my great-grandmother were not by New York  standards, and stuck out like sore thumbs in Michigan. And I cannot imagine a circumstance that would cause me to return there. My mother has gone many times in the intervening 30 years, and from her accounts, they are still the same sour, nasty jackasses I remember--with those of my generation spouting the same racist nonsense as their forbears.
Detroit is, in some ways , a ghost town; there are huge swaths of land within city limits that are uninhabited. As the book was going to press, Mayor Dave Bing (yes, the former NBA great with the Pistons) was floating a proposal to move the few stragglers from these empty areas and redraw the city lines to exclude them--saving on the provision of services like sanitation and police patrols to areas where few live. It makes some sense; until there is a wholesale change in the attitudes and beliefs of the people living around the city, nothing is going to change. And Detroit is most assuredly never going to have 1.6 million residents again, no matter what is done, no matter how far back the auto industry makes it.
I was hoping, after seeing the Clint Eastwood and Eminem commercials of the past couple of years, for a more positive book, at least a hope shot or nothing else. But there really isn't any. Basically, the white population of southeast Michigan persists in segregating themselves from the African-Americans they share the area with. They've been doing it since before the Civil War, and it really shows no signs of abatement. And with a significant portion of the country still not in acceptance of a black man as President of the United States--well, Detroit is Exhibit A for the case that we are as far from a post-racial society as it is possible to get and still maintain the fiction that progress is being made.

Are Other Nationalities This Ignorant About Their Own Countries?

I understand that not everyone is going to be a whiz at geography. I understand that there aren't going to be a lot of people who find maps interesting. I understand that most people can live their lives without absolutely needing to know a whole lot about other places, both in and out of their own country. But the older I get, the more amazed--and appalled--I am at just how many people really don't have any idea of both the most simple concepts of geography, and what a surprisingly large number of our youth really don't know where anything is. 
To take the first point first...I was in Cooperstown two weekends ago for my sister's wedding. Cooperstown is a small town, a hamlet really, in upstate New York that happens to be relatively well-known around the world because the legend that the sport of baseball was invented there became well-established in the first part of the last century, with the result being that the baseball Hall of Fame is located there. Cooperstown is not terribly easy to get to, and there was a predictable amount of grumbling heard there from members of both the bride and groom's extended families about it. But I had the feeling, listening to them, that it wouldn't have mattered if there had been a ten-lane highway leading right into the downtown area. In a theme I've heard variations on for the length of my life, one couple ended up in a hotel in Cobleskill, at least forty minutes away, because they had no idea of the distances involved in upstate New York ("you know, they sound so much alike"). There was the usual expression of amazement that are actually African-Americans living in upstate New York. And the kicker was a conversation with a relative by marriage. He commented first on the view of Otsego Lake from the hotel, then said, in all seriousness, that he didn't know if it had an outlet. I said if it didn't, it would be a salt lake, which seemed to be totally beyond his comprehension. Then I mentioned that the Susquehanna was the lake's outlet, and in fact its starting point was about fifty yards away, just down the street. To his credit, I suppose, he had actually heard of the Susquehanna. However, he was under the impression that it was the river that flowed through Philadelphia. A member of the groom's family, who lives in Virginia, somehow got involved in this conversation and expressed amazement that the Susquehanna is one of the rivers--actually, the longest and the one that contributes the most water--that flows into Chesapeake Bay. These are not stupid people, I hasten to add--but they have no idea of the basic geography of their own part of the country. And when I told them that the Susquehanna is the longest river entirely within the United States that flows into the Atlantic, they looked at me like I had three heads. For those people, the Hudson and the Potomac are the only rivers that matter in the eastern United States, because that's all they've ever had any reason to think about. Another person was overheard later in the afternoon wondering if Otsego Lake--nine miles long and maybe a half-mile wide--was one of the Great Lakes--"well, it has boats!". A third person had no idea who the "Cooper" was that Cooperstown is named after, and their companion wondered why there seemed to be a lot of "Indian stuff" around... which is something which touches on something that pisses me off more and more as I get older. I would venture to say that as many as 75% of adult Americans really think that North America was empty when white Europeans came here. It wasn't, and it wasn't as if the people living here packed up and moved away on their own after our arrival--we fought wars, beat them, subjugated them. It's not a pretty or uplifting story, but it doesn't mean it didn't happen, and yet this fantasy of this empty Garden of Eden has become a widespread part of American mythology. I don't know how many times in my life I have heard some ignorant asshole say something like, "America is so blessed, and the evidence is that  God gave us this great country." We took it at the point of a gun from the people who were living here before us. God had nothing to do with it.
Anyway, I digress. The second part of this little discussion became clear when I was ferrying my daughter and a few of her friends somewhere a week ago. Sabrina gets excellent grades and is very intelligent, and almost all of her friends get good marks and seem to be intellectually adept and curious, near as I can tell. It was a Sunday, and the day's football scores came on the radio, which led to some talk of teams and nicknames. I forget why, but I asked them what state Baltimore was in. None of them knew. I asked what state Pittsburgh was in--only Sabrina knew. None of them had ever heard of Cincinnati at all. I ended up going through the entire NFL roster of cities; the only cities that all of them could name the correct state/place they were located in were New York, Buffalo, Washington, San Francisco, and Miami (and I'm pretty sure two couldn't have located the District of Columbia on a map). One thought Atlanta was in Texas. One thought Tampa was in Louisiana. One thought Denver was in Minnesota. Two thought Minnesota was a city. None of them could correctly identify which state the third largest city in the nation is located in. One had never heard of the nation's fourth-largest city.
I'm used to not everyone knowing what I know about geography. But I was stunned nonetheless. These are the bright ones, the best we have in the upcoming generation, and are at an age where the adults they will become are pupating. And they have no idea where anything is, other than within a two-hundred mile radius or places that television shows are located in...the older I get, the more I think George Carlin was right. The purpose of our educational system is not to educate, it is to train obedient workers who know just enough to operate the machinery without breaking it. There is no reason why three high-honor roll eighth-graders do not know that Chicago is in Illinois. There is no good reason that a kid in the National Junior Honor Society has never heard of Houston. By the time intelligent kids are in the eighth grade, they should know that the bigger Kansas City is not in Kansas. I can't believe that none of them, given that history as taught in lower grades focuses as much as it does on American mythology, could name a majority, much less all, of the states that comprise New England, or what city the Tennessee Titans are based in, or could get to 13 years old and think that Atlanta was in Texas and not even know that Georgia (one of the original 13 colonies) was even a state.
Sorry if this seemed overly curmudgeonly.  But ignorance bothers me. A lot. Part of it is lack on interest--but part of it is lack of exposure, too. In the third or fourth grade, two weeks of instruction on geography would instill it for a lifetime. I have no idea at all why this is not done in our schools. None.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another Sunday Roundup

I"m getting to like doing this short-story approach to Sundays. And judging from the page views, so do many of you. So...
1) Yesterday in the mail, I got my biennial notice from the state of New York telling me I have six weeks to get my car re-registered. It now costs $81 to do so. Part of me thinks that is outrageous, but it is also for two years, not one, and honestly, I think I would complain less if it were $40 a year; doesn't seem too onerous to use all the state-provided roads for less than a dollar a week, right? I looked a little closer, and it breaks down as $61 for the registration and a $20 "fee", a legacy of past attempts by His Accidency and the current governor to close budget gaps. I'm not necessarily bitching about it, but what it did bring up in me is reflecting what kind of nonsense and bullshit we put ourselves through in this country to maintain the fiction that we are not raising taxes--and the lengths we will go to to not raise taxes on the wealthy. I'm sure many wealthy people are not going to miss $20 when it comes time to register their vehicles. But I can think of thousands of people that an extra twenty dollars, even once every hundred weeks, is a hardship for, that it means they go without something that week. This is the most pernicious and most damaging effect of the wealthy not paying more in the way of tax; in effect, taxes go up on those with less money, only we call them "fees." And I'm kind of tired of apologists for the wealthy and the arrogant rich complaining that many of us "don't pay our fair share." Although, to be truthful, we don't--we pay more than our fair share, through bullshit measures like this... before moving off this subject, I'm not positive, but it actually looks like I can keep my license plates, rather than have to be issued these hideous "Empire Gold" plates that started turning up a couple of years ago. If I so wanted, I could get them--for an extra 20 to 40 dollars, depending on whether I kept my plate number. But who would want to? The white plates are not great, rather pedestrian in design and visual effect--but they're not eyesores, either. These orange (whoever said they were "gold" needs better glasses or something) monstrosities that were, again, foisted on us during the Patterson Accidency are perhaps the most hideous, repulsive license plates in the nation, and certainly the worst of any this state has issued in my lifetime--well, at least since the last time they used orange as the base color in the 70's. I'm going to keep my white ones with Lady Liberty in the middle for as long as I possibly can.
2) Contempt that the wealthy kleptocracy has for us, ad nauseum...there have been a few reports I have seen, first on Facebook and then, after some digging, on some, but not many, sites on the Internet, that Romney's son Tagg (what is it with prominent Republican one-term governors giving their children these weird-ass names? Sarah Palin had four with names no one else in their right mind would use. Romney himself has a stupid first name, so you would think he would be more, not less, sensitive to giving his kid a moniker that makes the average person scratch their head. But Tagg? With the extra "g", too, trying to give some dignity to something that cannot be given dignity) has become the owner of a firm that makes these electronic voting machines that are going to be used in many of the states Romney has to win in order to win the election--and is currently not winning in. I want to emphasize that I don't know if this is true or not; although it happens much less frequently coming from lefty sources than from outfits like the corpse of Andrew Brietbart and Sean Hannity, occasionally there are things put out there that paint conservatives in poor light that are not true. But it points out something that can't be said enough. The amount of money that has been poured into this campaign by the forces of the right and the wealthy means that they are going to do whatever they need to do to "win"--even if it means stealing it. These are people who have spent decades gaming the system so that it responds primarily to their needs and desires and not ours, and they are people are used to getting what they want. They are not going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, only to shrug and say, "Oh, well, the people have spoken" on the day after the election. It's going to get ugly, and I am nearly 100% sure that there will be more controversy about vote-counting this November than in every other election in the country's history combined. It isn't as if that element has been particularly secret about their intentions--over a dozen bogus voter suppression efforts across the country; a level of campaign rhetoric that would make Goebbels blush; rigging the rules so that unlimited resources can be poured into the contest; huge influence and co-opting of the mainstream media. Those who treasure a relatively free press ought to pray every morning and evening that the Internet continues to exist in the form that it does, because as matters now stand it is by far the most important factor in ensuring that there is a lot of information available to us all. I don't know if the kleptocracy is going to actually steal the election. But I do know they are going to try. And I am sure that their view is that at least one and possibly two elections in recent memories were stolen (definitely 2000, and there have been repeated, endemic signs that something was not kosher with the collection of votes in Ohio in 2004), and so it can be done. It's going to take a much more determined and brazen effort to do it this year; Romney is the weakest candidate a major party has put up since 1972. But that effort is already being made.
2a) Romney's lost his best chance. In two debates thus far, Obama has been curiously inept. I keep getting the feeling he's holding back or something; he could rip this guy to shreds if he wanted to. He isn't, and I'm starting to wonder why. But maybe his view is that he has to lead the country for four more years and doesn't want to feed any more red meat to the haters--and also that he doesn't have to do much, because Romney will beat himself. And by and large, he has. Even most Romney supporters concede, after two years of watching him, that he's an asshole, someone who is just not likable at all. A growing number openly admit that he doesn't have any core principles, either, that they honestly do not know what he thinks on a growing number of issues... of the 44-48% that are likely to vote for Romney nationwide, I would venture that at least 3/4 of them would vote for anybody the Republicans put up there, simply because they want Obama out, but have no enthusiasm at all for the candidate. I know exactly how that feels. I'm not a fan of Obama (often referred to here as the Empty Suit), but he's done enough in the last two years (ending the war, health care, a few other things) that he doesn't turn my stomach anymore like he did the first two years he was President. But in 2004, I was in the exact same position. I could not stand John Kerry, but he wasn't Bush, and I ended up pulling the Kerry lever anyway only because he was not Bush. But it doesn't feel good when you feel your choices are literally Bad and Worse. And I fear for the future when there is so much evidence out there that the kleptocracy are willing to work so hard to have Worse installed as President. Makes you wonder what their real agenda is.
3) A day and a half into vacation, I'm not really feeling it yet. It didn't help that I had to go to the office yesterday morning to try to send some bulky scans to my supervisor, and it helped even less that they took too much memory and didn't go through. But I've tried, and other than a short email on Monday morning, I am truly going to walk away from it all for the remainder of the week off. But yesterday was very unusual in that Sabrina had a bat mitzvah to go to--where the reception was in Ithaca. With MOTY not having a car now--what a pain in the ass. A trip to Endicott to pick her up at 9 in the morning, and a trip back to Endicott at flipping midnight (at least the kid's parents had made arrangements for a bus to take attendees to Ithaca) to take her back there. I'm normally in bed long before midnight anymore, and what I feared was going to happen did happen: I couldn't fall asleep when I got home. I don't think I've been awake at 2 on a Sunday morning since I was living with Lila many, many years ago. And I didn't like it. Today is another departure from routine. Sabrina has decided to attend the travel team softball practices that are held every Sunday. Normally, their being in Endicott is a pain in the ass, but since it starts at 11:45, the time when I am usually picking her up, and go until 2:45, I figured I would just do laundry at my mother's while she practices. In theory, it should work fine, at least on days when my two older kids are not coming over...But it won't feel like vacation till it is ten in the morning on a weekday and I am raking leaves or fooling around on the computer.
4) I was a good high school football player, good enough to get some interest from major programs at the time ( I could have tried to walk on at SMU and Michigan State, among others; got more offers than I can remember to play Division II and III ball; and if I had been willing to go to West Point, I would have played football there). And those of you who read this space regularly know I can get caught up in scholastic sports that my children are playing. I'm reasonably proud to be a Union-Endicott alumnus, take pride in the state champion football team I was associated with, and at least pay cursory attention to how the program fares. But yesterday, a lot of my Facebook friends were all atwitter about the game between Union-Endicott and Maine-Endwell, and I'm willing to bet that very few of them had a kid playing in the game or cheerleading or some other connection. And honestly, I for the life of me cannot figure out why they cared so much. Yeah, it was nice that both were undefeated and so on...but come on. I graduated from high school thirty-one years ago. People that I played with have kids that are out of college already. I really can't see myself getting jacked up over a game simply because I attended a school over half a lifetime ago, especially since it's a completely different experience and program now. Black uniforms and helmets--really? Not to sound like an old grouch, but U-E's enrollment is about 60% of what it was when I was there, and the corresponding shrinking of the talent pool means, essentially, that guys who couldn't get off the bench on the teams I played on would be stars on the current editions. And since when did Maine-Endwell become our main rival? The two big games when I was there were Vestal and Ithaca. I guess Ithaca ceased being relevant decades ago, and I noticed U-E played Vestal in September this year, a WTF moment for me and the death knell for any tiny latent spark of interest I might have had in scholastic football. When the team that's been your main rival for fifty years, that was the traditionally season-ending game for entire lifetimes, is now the third game of the season... well, I know times change and life marches on, but don't expect me to keep step with every parade taking place..
And then, on top of it, M-E won easily, and apparently there was a fight at the end of the game, which completely and totally blew my mind. My coach when I was played there was the legendary Fran Angeline, who is still alive but very frail. I have some issues with some aspects of the "legend." There were many things about U-E football that are not really pleasant to recall; the program was good to me personally, and I have no complaints about the way I was treated and used as a player, but that certainly was not the case for my older brother and hundreds of other kids that played U-E football during those years. Frangeline, if he didn't quite have feet of clay, had a few clay toes, at any rate... but there is no way in the world that any Fran Angeline-coached team would have ever gotten into a brawl on a football field. None whatsoever. I don't care about the differences between us and today's kids, or the provocations, or that it's a different world with different values. And yes, there were times when it could have happened. When I was a senior, we went to Rome Free Academy to play a team that was ranked fifth in the state at their homecoming game. It was the only place we ever played where the crowd was bigger than those we played in front of at home. And we kicked their ass; only some truly shoddy officiating kept the final score from being totally out of hand. And there was a near riot after the game ended; we got stuff thrown at us, spit on, and jostled as we made our way to our bus, and then in the parking lot a mob--there were a thousand of them out there if there were one--starting throwing rocks and garbage at the bus. Some of those chucking stuff were wearing police uniforms. And as excitable and out of control as Frangeline could get on the sidelines during a game, he was that calm and collected in the midst of a riot. None of us responded either on the way to the bus or once on it, and when we were all on board, he calmly told the bus driver to start moving--slowly, as to give the mob a chance to get out of the way. Again, there is no way that a team coached by a man who kept his cool during a nascent riot would get into a brawl at the end of a game they got manhandled in. I read about it, and my stomach actually churned. Maybe the rot in this area is terminal.
5) And I thought further of Frangeline when I watched the marquee college football game last night. Kansas State is one of the most interesting stories in college football. Their coach, Bill Snyder, isn't a whole lot younger than Frangeline. And from what I can see, he's a throwback and an anomaly in the best possible way. K-State played like a modern juggernaut; they have a Tebow-like physical freak at quarterback that is impossible to contain, and they run a very modern offense to take maximum advantage of his talents. But what struck me like a thunderbolt as I watched them destroy West Virginia at Morgantown last night was the way they conducted themselves. There was no strutting, no jawing, no look-at-me bullshit that is absolutely endemic in college football--pro football, too, for that matter--today. And they were fundamentally flawless. They played hard every play, whistle to whistle. They blocked well. They ran precise routes. Their running backs didn't try to improvise too much. Their receivers gave the ball to the official after catching it--none of this first-down pointing horseshit and bumping up on the defensive back, and they ignored the few times when West Virginia's players attempted to start that crap. On defense, more of the same, and even better, they don't hit, they tackle. They're not looking to loosen your helmet every play; they just get you on the ground as soon as you catch the ball, and their linemen, if they aren't too well blocked, stop the runners. I don't think West Virginia, who has made a living on yards after contact for three years, broke five tackles all game long. K-State was the most disciplined pass rushing team I've seen in years; facing a mobile quarterback, they stayed in their lanes and peeled off when he started moving and took angles to the sideline that ensured he wasn't taking off up the field. Their coverage schemes were intelligent, and  no one out there was freelancing. They looked extremely well-prepared, like nothing West Virginia was doing was a surprise to them.
In fact, they reminded me, dimly, of the teams I played on. Not that U-E in 1980 was this good, but the workmanlike, team-focused, intelligent play based on thorough scouting (I was never once surprised by anything an opposing team did during my football career. As a game coach, Frangeline left much to be desired. But no one--no one--did a better job during the week preparing his teams to play), and lack of attention-seeking nonsense was exactly how I was taught how to and did play the game. And it says volumes about today's football that Kansas State sticks out in such stark contrast to virtually any other quality program. They may not be able to beat an Alabama or a Florida, maybe not even an Oregon. But I have a new favorite college team. I had never seen this edition of Kansas State before, but I'm hooked. I love the way they play the game; it's football like it should be. And I will be rooting for them from here on out, even if they end up playing Oregon (a team that I love watching play because of the explosiveness and, honestly, the uniforms) somewhere down the line.